Mishpatim: Ox Vs. Ox

A Path to Redemption

In parsha Mishpatim we learn the laws of the muad, an animal that performed an act of destruction on three consecutive occasions (Ex. 21:28-36). If someone’s animal is designated a muad and it gores an animal belonging to someone else, the muad’sowner must pay the full price of the damage. Conversely, if a tam (animal without a violent past) gores another animal, the tam’s owner is only responsible for half of the loss.

Once an animal is considered a muad, can it ever be tamed? Is redemption possible for a habitually violent ox? The rabbis of the Talmud say yes, and offer a number of ways for the ox to regain the status of a tam. One of these ways is new ownership. Perhaps the ox was out of control because of poor management, and a new owner will be able to tame it.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe brings down a universal lesson from the teaching of the rehabilitated ox. We all have a wild ox inside of us that can lead us to behave in ugly ways. But like the fearsome muad, we have a path to redemption: new ownership. When we place ourselves under God’s control and submit to His will, we can overcome our “animal nature.” Rabbi Betzalel Bassman compares this to an addict who finds recovery in a 12-step program that requires him to submit his will to God’s will.

May we all be strengthened to subdue our animal nature so we can be a blessing to those around us!

Dedicated by John Schor

Image: “Jewish Cattle Dealer” by Julius Holzmuller, 1909

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